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March 6, 1996

Authorities Address US Drug-Related 'Arms Race'

JAMA. 1996;275(9):672-673. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530330016005

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IN THE MID 1980s, the homicide rate for young men increased rapidly, while homicide rates for other age groups remained the same or declined. What triggered this spasm of violent death in the statistical record?

There seemed to be general agreement among the professors of law, criminology, economics, and public health at last month's "Conference on Guns and Violence in America," held at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, Ill, that the killings began with the emergence of crack cocaine as a major drug of abuse a decade ago (JAMA. 1986;255:1987).

Right away, the criminal enterprises that were organized to distribute this popular commodity faced a labor crisis. Street dealers were being imprisoned in record numbers, demand for crack was increasing, and the number of transactions needed to sell the drug in small, affordable quantities had also increased. The solution, according to Alfred Blumstein, PhD, of the Heinz School